UK government launches regeneration plan to “breathe life into town centres”
The UK government has launched a new long-term strategy to “evolve and regenerate” England’s battered, down-at-heel high streets. It wants to turn them into “thriving places to work, visit and live… breathing life into town centres”.
It said 15 ‘Town Deals’ worth £335 million have been so far confirmed ”to revitalise towns across England”. Deals have also been offered to all 101 places that were invited to develop proposals.
These new deals will fund community regeneration projects including repurposing empty stores on high streets, creating new public spaces, transforming a riverfront area into a community hub with entertainment and leisure venues, and creating a new digital enterprise and learning centre.
It’s a much-needed move for high streets that were already under pressure before the pandemic hit.
Over the last 18 months, many retailers have failed and many still struggle to survive. High streets and shopping centres lost more than 17,500 chain stores in 2020 alone, according to research from PwC and the Local Data Company. Meanwhile, Covid spurred average daily closures of 48 stores, leisure and hospitality venues leaving unsightly gaps along once-vibrant locations.
Also high on the government's list will be to “transform” derelict buildings, and clean up streets, while communities across the UK will be given the chance to own their local pubs, theatres, sports grounds and corner shops.
Hospitality will also be given a boost with the streamlined pavement licensing system extended for 12 months across England so more shops, cafes and restaurants can make use of outdoor areas, “with an intention to make this permanent”.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said he has set out his vision on how the government would “level up and unite the country” that will “deliver visible changes to local areas and communities across England… supporting a renewed sense of community for current and future generations”.
Councils will be given the power to transform towns, taking over derelict buildings through compulsory purchase orders so they can be converted into new homes if property owners stall on regeneration plans. Councils will also be encouraged to use existing powers to convert empty offices into housing, and empty shops will be transformed into entertainment venues or thriving new businesses without the need for planning permission.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said: “As we build back better from the pandemic, we are transforming our high streets across the UK into the kind of vibrant places we will want to visit, work and call home for generations to come.
“This strategy sets out a vision for entrepreneurship to thrive, where local shops and businesses are supported with permanent al fresco dining, derelict eyesores transformed into quality homes and new hubs for business and entertainment encouraged”.
He added: “A sense of community is at the heart of the strategy, ensuring local areas are protected for current and future generations to enjoy”.
Meanwhile, new funding will be committed for ‘mini-Holland’ schemes across England to embed greener forms of transport, encouraging cycling and walking by installing segregated cycle lanes on main roads, expanding space for pedestrians and creating low-traffic neighbourhoods.
Funding will be drawn from the £2 billion fund for cycling and walking announced by the Transport secretary in May 2020.
A UK-wide, annual National High Streets Day will be launched to ensure cleaner streets that communities "can truly be proud of, involving the whole community".
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